Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Brexeternity

by Frank Schnittger Sun Nov 10th, 2019 at 04:02:49 PM EST

In all the sturm und drang around a no deal or a Boris deal Brexit, it is easy to forget that this is just the prologue. All the Brexit deal does is settle some outstanding details arising out of the UK's departure: It does very little to decide the shape of the future relationship between Great Britain and the EU.

I use the term "Great Britain" advisedly, because the one aspect of the future relationship between the EU and the UK that has been decided in the deal is that N. Ireland, will remain, for all practical purposes, in the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) - whatever Boris Johnson might say otherwise.

But for the rest of the UK, aka Great Britain, all options are still on the table - all the way from a no deal trade war, through trading rules dictated by WTO Treaties, to Canada+++ or Norway---; whatever that may mean. As Boris Johnson has demonstrated, it's all about the marketing: His slightly reheated and amended version of May's deal is suddenly acceptable to the hoards of hard-line ERG Brexiteers who voted against her original version three times.

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Boris off to a bad start

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 6th, 2019 at 10:45:29 PM EST

Boris Johnson enters the first day of the official UK general election campaign with an average lead of 11% in the 11 polls published since the House of Commons voted to hold a general election. These poll leads range from 7 to 16% and there is no discernable trend over the past week. Not too bad a start, one would have thought, until one recalls that Theresa May's lead was 19% when she called the 2017 election.

Boris Johnson's campaign launch has also been dogged by no less than three scandals on the opening day of the official campaign:

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DUP under pressure in Northern Ireland Election

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 31st, 2019 at 01:28:47 PM EST

Newton Emerson has a very interesting take on how the general election may play out in N. Ireland. The DUP currently hold 10 seats to Sinn Fein's 7, with one independent Unionist.  Essentially Northern Ireland has been re-partitioned East West between unionist and Nationalist representatives with a nationalist enclave in West Belfast.

By Furfur, Brythones - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

 

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Turkeys vote for Christmas

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 30th, 2019 at 11:29:11 AM EST

And so the turkeys have finally voted for Christmas. The House of Commons has overwhelmingly voted for an election on Boris Johnson's preferred date of 12th. December.

The vote gave Boris Johnson the date he was looking for and there were no amendments to expand the franchise to include EU nationals or 16- and 17-year-olds. But the prime minister is facing the voters with Brexit still not delivered and his pledge to leave the EU by October 31st in shreds.

Some Conservative MPs fear their constituents will punish them for spending five weeks campaigning rather than scrutinising and passing the withdrawal agreement Bill. And all Conservatives are conscious of the electoral mountain they must climb to return to power.

More than 30 seats short of a working majority of 320 as they go into the campaign, the Conservatives expect to lose seats to the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland and to the Liberal Democrats in the southeast and southwest of England. At odds with the DUP over the Brexit deal and with no other potential coalition parties, the Conservatives will need to win a majority if they are to form the next government.

Labour is on 25 per cent in an average of opinion polls, 11 points behind the Conservatives and just 7 per cent ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Labour started the 2017 election campaign polling 25 per cent too, but more than 20 points behind Theresa May's Conservatives.

Corbyn's allies draw comfort from the outcome in 2017, which saw Labour draw almost level with the Conservatives with 40 per cent of the vote. And Labour has more coalition options than the Conservatives, so it does not need a majority or even to emerge as the biggest party to have a chance of forming the government.

On the other hand Corbyn is by far the most unpopular of the party leaders and the Conservatives are targeting Labour-held seats that voted Leave in 2016, particularly in the midlands and northeast England, and in Wales.

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So what went wrong?

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 22nd, 2019 at 10:02:11 AM EST

I am, for my sins, also a moderator of the Irish Rugby Fan forum which is a closed Facebook group with over 23,000 members and dozens of new membership applications every day. If only we had similar numbers here!

Every now and then I post a blog trying to summarise a week-end's play or otherwise editorialise on the going's on in a particular match. Today's post is a requiem for Ireland's underwhelming performance in, and exit at the quarter-final stage from the World Cup taking place in Japan right now.

For family reasons I have had very little time for watching TV or blogging on any topic right now so the post is restricted to Ireland's matches as I have been unable to watch any of the others.

Ireland went into the World Cup ranked, very briefly, at no. 1 in the world, but that was never a realistic assessment of our recent form. Our current ranking of 5th. in the World is probably about right, and not bad for a small country where rugby is the third or fourth most popular sport behind Gaelic Football, Soccer, and perhaps Hurling.

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Duplicity

by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 20th, 2019 at 10:14:07 PM EST

It is difficult to imagine a more insulting act by a head of government than to send a formal letter on headed notepaper purporting to come from his office and person, but omitting to sign it as a means of authenticating it. And then to send another signed letter saying something quite different.

It is the very essence of duplicity. You are either a democrat taking full responsibility for the acts of your office as mandated by your law and parliament or you are a worthless and untrustworthy operator.

In declining to respond anytime soon, the EU is actually acting with great restraint. It could have returned the unsigned letter to sender requesting due authentication by signature.

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Ulster says NO!

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 17th, 2019 at 10:54:04 AM EST

DUP leader Arlene Foster (left) and deputy leader Nigel Dodds. photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The title of this diary is deliberately provocative as "Uster Says No" has been the Paisleyite, unionist and loyalist moto since the formation of the N. Ireland sectarian statelet. In reality N. Ireland only constitutes 6 of the 9 counties of the province of Ulster, and these were chosen as part of a deliberate gerrymander to create a protestant majority. Even within this context, the DUP now only has about 1,000 members and received 24% and 22% of the vote in the 2019 local and European elections respectively.

So it is more correct to state that it is the DUP which says NO, as they have been doing to every reform initiated since the foundation of the statelet, including the Good Friday Agreement. Basically they claim that N. Ireland is as British as Finchley while at the same time claiming different treatment for Northern Ireland compared to Britain when it suits them on car number plates, bank holidays, tourism, languages, gambling, defamation, anti-discrimination laws, spirit measures, railway lines, lighthouses, waterways, the civil service, abortion and equal marriage.

So the DUP's rejection of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is utterly in character and of no surprise whatsoever to anyone acquainted with N. Ireland politics. But the DUP is also literally incapable of saying YES to any significant change because it does not have the skills or means to persuade its voting base of the necessity for change. As Northern Ireland Unionist commentator, Newton Emerson has observed,

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Does anyone care?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 10th, 2019 at 01:27:35 PM EST


DUP defensive cunning misses big picture of being laughed out of court

In 2015, towards the end of a previous Stormont crisis, then Democratic Unionist Party leader and first minister Peter Robinson found himself in a corner. He had threatened to bring down power-sharing if devolution was not suspended over an IRA murder. However, the British government had called his bluff. So the DUP commenced an arcane series of rolling resignations, with ministers standing down for a week, resuming their posts just in time to avoid triggering an election, then standing down again.


It was a classic DUP solution under Robinson's tenure, stretching laws and promises to the limit to construct an elaborate face-saving mechanism. But the DUP leader had misjudged Northern Ireland's sense of the absurd. The resignations were promptly christened "the hokey cokey" and became a joke from which Robinson's authority never recovered. He announced his retirement from politics two months later.

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The Blame Game

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 8th, 2019 at 12:26:14 PM EST

Well that didn't last long...

Johnson allies admit deal hopes are effectively dead

British prime minister Boris Johnson's allies admitted on Tuesday that hopes of a Brexit deal at next week's EU summit were effectively dead after Mr Johnson held a bruising phone conversation with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Sterling fell on the news, as Number 10 began a "blame game" strategy amid dark warnings that Britain would retaliate against EU member states and that talk of "sincere co-operation" with the EU was now "in the toilet".

Elsewhere, EU Council president Donald Tusk accused Mr Johnson of playing a `stupid blame game' in his dealings with the bloc. "What's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people," Mr Tusk wrote on Twitter. "You don't want a deal, you don't want an extension, you don't want to revoke," the Council President added, before asking "quo vadis?" the Latin for "where are you going?"

After days of gathering gloom over the possibility of a Brexit breakthrough, unnamed Number 10 sources on Tuesday prepared the ground for failure, claiming that Dr Merkel and other EU leaders had not moved "a centimetre". Although Downing Street has so far declined to comment on the telephone call with Dr Merkel, Mr Johnson's allies accused the German chancellor of vetoing Britain's Brexit plan, which would see Northern Ireland leave the EU customs union.

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Scamming the peace

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 2nd, 2019 at 11:51:32 AM EST


Boris Brexit plan a `scam', says Good Friday agreement negotiator

Ability to feel Irish or British or both `will be destroyed' , says Jonathan Powell.

Former Labour Party adviser Jonathan Powell, one of the chief negotiators of the Good Friday agreement, described Boris Johnson's Brexit deal proposal as a "scam" .


He told BBC's Newsnight: They are "trying to avoid a deal in order to get to no deal as they were always going to do. This is the final confirmation that's their aim."

Powell also said the ability to feel Irish or British or both - a key part of the Good Friday agreement - "will be destroyed" if a customs border is put in. "The point of this is not how long it takes a lorry to cross the border in Northern Ireland. The issue is identity."

The main ingredients of Johnson's plan, to be outlined on Wednesday in his Tory party conference speech, are a proposal for "two borders for four years" and a "Stormont Lock". After the transition period comes to an end, Northern Ireland would stay in the single market for four years but, crucially, not in the customs union.

That would mean that there would be a single market for the whole of Ireland for agri-food and manufactured goods until 2025. It would also mean other goods originating from the North would be subject to customs checks once they crossed the border into the EU.


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Wrightbus goes wrong

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 26th, 2019 at 09:16:31 AM EST


Boris Johnson at Wrightbus

Wrightbus is one of the few iconic N. Ireland industrial concerns along with Harland and Wolff shipyard (which built the Titanic) and Short Brothers aircraft manufacturing, now owned by Bombardier, which manufactures wings for the Airbus A220 aircraft, and which is considered a possible Airbus takeover target. Wrightbus is best known as the maker of the iconic London "Boris Bus"

Wrightbus is headquartered in the Antrim town of Ballymena which is also the home town of Ian Paisley, founder of the Free Presbyterian Church and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). It is at the very epicentre of hardline, fundamentalist protestant unionism. In 2017 it donated £4 Million to "Christian, evangelical and other charitable activities at a time it made a pre-tax loss of £1.7 million. It is owned by "Pastor" Jeffrey William Wright who controls almost 69 per cent of the company and the Wright Evangelical Trust.

William Wright was a key supporter of the Leave campaign in Northern Ireland, but the Brexit vote caused uncertainty in its marketplace, and the company found that some of its customers reconsidered investment plans because of the UK's changing relationship with Europe. Many of the WrightBus customers are private and State-owned transport operators, and some of these have parent companies with headquarters in Europe. Wrightbus has now gone into administration with the likely loss of 1,200 jobs and thousands more in the supply chain and supporting services.

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Getting rid of Boris...

by Frank Schnittger Tue Sep 24th, 2019 at 03:26:21 PM EST

The judgement of the UK Supreme Court is about as bad as it could be for Boris:

  1. It is unanimous - therefore there is no minority report the government can cling to in part justification for its stance

  2. It is clear cut - no equivocation - the prorogation was unlawful, void, and of no effect - therefore Parliament can resume sitting immediately, and Bills in progress through the house will not have lapsed.

  3. Although the judgement does not say so explicitly, it follows the PM advised the Queen to act unlawfully

  4. The Parliament has lost two weeks work during which time it could not fulfil its primary functions - so real harm has been done, and the effect of the prorogation is described as "extreme".

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Defending Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 19th, 2019 at 12:36:35 PM EST

I am not a complete pacifist, but I generally struggle to find problems where brute military force is the solution. At most I am prepared to concede that every country has a right to defend itself, and must make appropriate provision to create forces with the capability to see off likely threats. But more often than not the resort to war has only come about because of a failure of politics and diplomacy at many levels. The best defence is always to ensure that international relationships never deteriorate to that level in the first place.

In the case of a small country like Ireland, developing a capability to deal with likely threats does not include the capability to ward off an invasion by a major power. Not only is in unclear why any major power might want to invade us, but it is certain we would lose such a battle if it where fought on their terms. Our best bet is the maintain good relations with neighbouring powers and rely on economic integration and mutual self-interest to do the rest.

So, in general, I am quite happy with the fact that Ireland has a very small defence force, run on a shoestring budget, which does little more than fisheries protection; air and sea rescue; peacekeeping, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in support of the United Nations; and providing armed support to a largely unarmed police force when dealing with major violent crime or terrorist threats. Quite apart from anything else, it means there is no macho political culture of violent responses to people or countries with which we might disagree.

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A Democratic Backstop

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 19th, 2019 at 10:43:19 AM EST

You know you are in serious trouble when Stormont is being touted as the solution to your problem...

Stormont lock is fig leaf for likely DUP climbdown

An air of absurdity and exhaustion hangs over the idea that Stormont is the solution to Brexit. The northern institutions have collapsed, the British government is collapsing and London's sincerity in seeking a deal remains in question. These are shaky grounds on which to place the contention and complexity of Stormont input into the backstop, or some backstop-like arrangement. A new layer of accountability can be imagined and Northern Ireland is hardly a stranger to arcane government systems. But where would the energy come from to make this work, when only the DUP wants it and most nationalists would see Stormont administering Brexit as adding insult to injury?


It is not as if the DUP's need is fundamental - it merely wants a fig leaf to cover its retreat. When then British prime minister Theresa May unveiled the so-called Stormont lock in January this year, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds dismissed it as "cosmetic and meaningless".

May's proposals were stronger than anything now likely to be agreed.

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The end of the Tories

by Frank Schnittger Tue Sep 17th, 2019 at 09:57:16 PM EST

The dog that didn't bark

As the UK drifts ever closer to B-day, you would expect there would be a flurry of activity - tense overnight negotiations, crunch summits of key leaders, emotional parliamentary debates and cliff-hanging votes on difficult compromises. The reality is that nothing much is happening, and probably won't be happening for another month or so.

Parliament is prorogued, all the media focus will be on the annual party conference season, no serious detailed technical negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement are taking place and Boris, having seen Juncker for the first time in his two months of premiership, decided he could afford to alienate the Prime Minister of a small EU member state - Xavier Bettell.

In London the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the legality of the lengthy proroguing of Parliament. But what difference will it make, even if it finds in favour of the plaintiffs? Parliament may end up returning earlier, but the key date - October 19th. has now been etched in stone - it is either a deal agreed by Parliament by then, or it's another extension, or at least that is what the law says.

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Rerversing the dominant submissive British Irish polarity

by Frank Schnittger Sun Sep 15th, 2019 at 02:09:41 PM EST

I normally read Fintan O'Toole's articles, but when I saw the title of his latest piece "For the first time since 1171, Ireland is more powerful than Britain," I decided to give it a miss. Fintan going over the top again, I thought. But then in an idle moment I chanced upon the article again and got drawn in. It turns out to be some of Fintan's best work.

In considering his writing we must remember he is as much an art and drama critic as a political analyst, and while his political analysis can be a bit off the deep end - as when he suggested all Sinn Fein MPs should resign and allow themselves to be replaced by nationalist candidates not bound by an abstentionist policy - his colour writing on the subtle shifts and nuances of Anglo-Irish relations is second to none.

And far from the triumphalist Irish nationalist piece of guff I was expecting with a title like that, it is actually a very perceptive piece on how Brexit has changed the whole dynamic of Anglo-Irish relations. Essentially he is arguing that the polarity of the dominant-submissive mode of the post colonial British Irish relationship has been reversed: Partially in terms of Irish government policy and presentation, but more particularly in the mind set of Brexiteers.

Crazy as it may seem, they imagine themselves to be engaged in a post-colonial struggle for liberation against an oppressive evil empire (the EU) and cannot understand how Ireland would not be an automatic and natural ally in that struggle - but instead has taken on the role of cheerleader and chief antagonist for the evil empire.

Thankfully he notes that "There is far too much at stake to take any pleasure in this bizarre political reversal." The last thing we need to do is to replace an obsequious deference to our lords and masters with an obnoxious sense of superiority.

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Reforming the UK Constitution

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 13th, 2019 at 10:32:23 AM EST

The Brexit debacle has given rise to a lot of discussion of the UK "Constitution", unwritten as it is, and the need to reform key aspects of it to prevent the abuse of power. It would be helpful if there were a written codified version of it, so at least we could all agree on what it says. Instead we have a tangled web of precedents, conventions, "gentlemen's agreements", case law and statutory instruments giving huge scope for disagreement and uncertainty as to what is, and is not "constitutional".

A convention is only a convention until it isn't, and a precedent only a precedent until it is broken. Different judges come to different conclusions as to what is permissible, and there appear to be huge gaps in statutory law. The US experience has shown that a written Constitution is no guarantee against abuse and wilful misinterpretation - see the second amendment to the US Constitution, where reference to "a well regulated Militia" has not been allowed to restrict individuals to bear arms in their own right.

So while accepting that no constitution is ever perfect, what changes would you like to see to the current UK constitution?

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The penny has dropped

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 12th, 2019 at 08:48:25 AM EST

Newton Emerson has been the foremost unionist commentator on political affairs in Ireland over the past few years. In common with almost all unionists he couldn't quite understand why Brexit was an existential threat to the Good Friday Agreement, the peace process and any Irish government, no matter how mild mannered or moderate its chief protagonists. Somehow Brexit was going to be a fact of life and we were all going to have to "just get on with it".

To be clear, Newton, like the 56% in N. Ireland who voted Remain (including 40% of protestants), was against Brexit, and decried what he called the DUP's "recreational anti-nationalism" which saw Brexit as an opportunity to really antagonise nationalists without serious consequences.

In common with most of the British establishment, the DUP never thought the referendum would pass. They thought they could have their cake and eat it: really annoy the nationalists, and then just whistle in the air and carry on as if nothing had happened, all the while grinning at how they had outsmarted their sworn enemies.

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A Glossary of Brexitology

by Frank Schnittger Wed Sep 11th, 2019 at 09:31:41 AM EST

For some years now I have spent part of the year in Spain to get away from Ireland's long winter climate, enjoy a change of scenery, indulge a childhood passion for living beside the sea, and experience Spain's many other virtues. To my shame, my acquisition of the Spanish language has been slow, to put in mildly. I learned German and French in school, and so lack a grammatical foundation.

But undoubtedly the main reason is sheer laziness. I can get by with relatively little Spanish to conduct everyday affairs, and I have chosen to spend my intellectual energies elsewhere. My excuse is that I am still learning English, which is often literally true.

Writing, as I do, for a multi-lingual community, this is often a source of embarrassment, as many here whose native language is not English, can command it just as well as I do. I console myself by thinking I may have a better grasp of English's many idiomatic idiosyncrasies, and often feel the need to explain or link to explanations of the finer nuances of particular terms.

I include below, for your delectation, a glossary of some English language terms whose precise meaning may not be immediately obvious to non native speakers. Please feel free to use the comments to add your own definitions of terms which may have caused you some puzzlement in the past. Political discourse is often as much about obfuscation as clarification, but as writers and commentators our job is at least partly to eliminate such terminological in-exactitudes where possible.

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Boris and Leo press conference

by Frank Schnittger Mon Sep 9th, 2019 at 04:43:35 PM EST


Please scroll to 44 minutes for beginning of Press conference


Opening remarks

Leo Varadker

  1. We respect democratic and sovereign decision of the UK to leave the EU
  2. Even a no deal Brexit on 31 Oct. is simply the start of the next phase
  3. No deal= severe disruption on these islands - less so on the continent
  4. All the same issues will still have to be resolved before we can even begin to talk about the future economic relationship
  5. All issues which had been resolved in deal negotiated in good faith (note to Mike Pence) with your predecessor will still be on the table.
  6. Negotiating FTAs with both the EU and USA will be a Herculean task - and can only begin with the EU once Withdrawal Agreement ratified.
  7. Cannot replace legal guarantees with promises
  8. Must protect peace and burgeoning all Ireland economy
  9. Haven't received realistic proposals to date
  10. GFA is a good example of how previously intractable issues can be resolved

Boris Johnson

  1. 50% of all cheese & beef consumed in UK produced in Ireland
  2. Must restore Stormont power sharing Executive
  3. Must complete Brexit by 31 st. Oct
  4. Brexit is not a problem of Ireland's making
  5. Will not institute border controls
  6. Can safeguard GFA
  7. Can protect all-Ireland economy
  8. Want to find a deal - no deal very damaging and a failure of statecraft
  9. Can be done by Oct.18th.

Read more... (25 comments, 711 words in story)
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News and Views

 1 - 7 October 2019

by Bjinse - Sep 30, 440 comments

Your take on this week's news

 October Thread

by Bjinse - Sep 30, 75 comments

Let's call the whole thread off

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